Global Oil & Gas: World Gas Conference panel advocates on energy industry digital transition

Digitalization-energyIndustry experts have expressed confidence that the digitalisation of the oil and gas industry will bring new jobs to the sector as it looks to focus on sustainability, embrace safety and keep costs under control.

A world where robots, artificial intelligence and “smart technology” will take over certain tasks from workers in the sector, will not lead to job cuts, digital specialists said during a panel at last week’s World Gas Conference in Washington. Instead, the job market will grow and adapt, they argued.

David Elizondo, a senior manager at consultancy Accenture Strategy, said the industry is in a very good position to capture value from the digital transformation.

“Digital is about delivering business value by solving business issues,” he said.

According to Elizondo, $1 trillion of value is on the table for the oil and gas industry to capture by embracing digital, and these savings, experts say, will not come by reducing the workforce.

“I think digitalisation will help the industry do a lot more than we are able to do right now,” Russell Potapinski, head of intelligent and autonomous systems for Australian independent Woodside Petroleum, said.

“We want robotic systems for installations,” he said.

“We have several oil and gas platforms offshore and there’s nobody onboard.

“So if something does go wrong and we need to do investigations or analysis, we have no choice but to send people in helicopters hundreds of kilometres offshore, which in the industry is statistically a hazardous activity.”

According to Potapinski, digital developments to carry out such analysis can help cut back on costs and downtime for repairs, as well as, improve safety “significantly”.

However, when approaching digitalisation, management needs to work on its approach.

“Three of the most critical things here are: communication, making sure everyone understands what the new (digital) solution is about; training, teaching people how to apply this new solution; and then making people understand they will not be replaced by the new machine,” Elizondo said.

“The tasks that are very repetitive or transactional are the things that are being replaced, or the things a human cannot do, like processing huge amounts of information.”

Martin Bragg, chief technology officer for engineering services provider Honeywell, said companies can cut costs by 25% to 30% through this type of innovation, and to do so, he suggested they “start small, with critical assets”.

“You look at that asset and digitise it, prove the concept and make the savings. What you would not want to do is digitise the whole (business at once) and end up with some very valuable data, but that would not really help you move forward,” Bragg said.

Meanwhile, comparing the digitalisation of the industry to advances in technology in other sectors, like IT or agriculture where a more digital environment is helping improve productivity, Potapinski warned a concern on the horizon for the sector would instead be the lack of knowledgeable people. “When something digitally-related breaks, who will fix that? Or when we need the software updated… who will do that?” Potapinski said.

“There’s a whole new profession here that’s about to occur. Would these skills come from engineering, computer science, communication technicians? I think that one of the things we are trying to prepare our university and our vocational educational systems for is that these are jobs of the future that don’t look anything like what they do today.

“And it’s not just for young people coming into the industry, but its training people already in the industry who are going back to school and learning new skills we need, which complement what they already know,” he said.

Bragg added: “I think we’re already looking at a job increase, not job cuts. I think the job titles might change, but not disappear.” source: Upstream

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